How Outdoor Orientation Programs Prepare Students for College

by Ashley Denton

How an Outdoor Orientation Program Impacted My Life

The summer before I started college, I experienced a life-changing outdoor orientation program at Young Life’s Beyond Malibu in Canada. That intense time in the wilderness prepared me for the major transition to college life.

The Freshman Year of College is a Crossroads

When a freshman goes to college, they leave the daily safety net of parental guidance and enter a world where they have to exercise almost 100% responsibility. After having worked with college students for many years, I believe the freshman year of college can be one of the most formidable 12 months of a person’s life.

A freshmen in college makes decisions about relationships, vocational pursuits, and spiritual habits. Decisions made during the first few weeks of college can potentially shape the trajectory of one’s life, for better or worse. An outdoor orientation program can help prepare students for this radical life-transition. It provides space to think and plan for what’s ahead. It also offers a platform to build community with friends who are entering the same stage of life.

Colleges and Universities are Catching on to the Importance of Outdoor Orientation Programs

Brent Bell, professor of outdoor education at University of New Hampshire found that 11.5 percent of the nation’s 1,758 colleges and universities have some kind of outdoor orientation program. That’s roughly 200 colleges! From my perspective, just about any outdoor orientation program will help a student enter college, yet orientation programs that offer spiritual guidance as a focal point of the program will have an even greater impact:

Act Now… Plan a Wilderness Experience… It Could Make All the Difference

So if you are going to college next year or you know someone who is, I’d recommend considering a couple of things: 1) Consider going to a college that offers an outdoor orientation program for in-coming freshman, 2) or if it isn’t possible for you to go to a university that offers one of these programs, then think ahead and ask your youth leader to plan a wilderness trip with an organization that specializes in outdoor ministry expeditions. A week of spiritual guidance in the wilderness could make a world of difference.

If you would like to read more about how Jesus himself used time in the wilderness with his disciples to prepare them for the mission he was calling them to, you can read my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership. And for more articles related to new student outdoor orientation programs, I’ve listed a few articles of interest below.


Articles & Links Related to Outdoor Orientation Programs

Wilderness New Student Orientation Programs: American Colleges and Universities

Brent Bell. “Wilderness Orientation: Exploring the Relationship Between College Pre-orientation Programs and Social Support,” Journal of Experiential Education, 2006, Vol. 29, No. 2 pp. 145-167.

Brent J. Bell, Marion R. Holmes, Branden Vigneault, and Brady Williams. “Student Involvement: Critical Concerns of Outdoor Orientation Programs,” Journal of Experiential Education, 2008, Vol. 30, No. 3 pp. 253–257

Brent J. Bell, Marion Reid Holmes, and Brady G. Williams. “A Census of Outdoor Orientation Programs at Four-Year Colleges in the United States,” Journal of Experiential Education, 2010, Vol. 33, No. 1 pp. 1–18.

Gwen Fears and Mark S. Denke. “Wilderness Pursuit Programs: An Orientation Paradigm,” The Journal of College Orientation and Transition, Fall 2001, Vol. 9, Number 1, p. 5-22.

Michael A Gass; Daniel E Garvey; Deborah A Sugerman. “The long-term effects of a first-year student wilderness orientation program,” The Journal of Experiential Education; 2003; 26, 1; p. 34.